The materiality of representation: A preface
Stratos Nanoglou In S. Nanoglou & L. Meskell (eds), The Materiality of Representation, Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 16.3 (September 2009): 157-161.
From the Introduction
Issues of materiality are gaining ground in archaeology, although there are still conflicting views over the usefulness of the concept. Despite the controversy over the concept itself, all interlocutors converge in the need to focus on the material aspect of the world, on the material part of material culture. Historically, this could be seen as a counteraction to an overt emphasis upon the cultural as an intellectual construct that has dominated many recent attempts to reconstruct the past, but the move does not restrict itself to that. Accordingly, in this issue our understanding and use of the term is on the broadest level. It pertains to the “thingness” of things, to that aspect of things that gives them a material presence in the world.
Representations are as material as any other thing. They are articulated in particular contexts, engaging particular materials, having a particular material presence, informing our understanding of the world and of the proper way to inhabit it. Representing something can have many different meanings and connotations, but it always entails referring to something else. Whether we choose to keep the term “representation” or abandon it, we argue against a certain tradition that sees representations as above society only mirroring other entities and other practices, and we think it is time to reposition them within the world, to understand them as part of the world they attempt to represent, to see them as real and tangible in themselves. Representations are never floating signifiers; they always occupy a certain place in the world from which they address people and get addressed by them. Their referential aspect is always situated in time and space: they refer to something being something specific. This particularity is exactly the subject of this special issue. The papers that follow try to situate artifacts representing people or animals within the particular material conditions from which they informed their users.